Prep skates past Ridgefield boys hockey team

The second meeting of the season between the state's two top-ranked boys hockey teams was almost identical to the first.

Taking control early, top-ranked Fairfield Prep defeated second-ranked Ridgefield, 5-1, on Wednesday night at the Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport.

Prep also beat the Tigers, 6-1, in the season opener back in early December.

Ridgefield looked flat-footed to start the game as Prep pushed the tempo from the opening face-off. The Tigers struggled to maintain possession as the Jesuits pressured the puck at every turn and flew up the ice at a breakneck pace off turnovers.

Prep's Carter Kral scored the first goal just two minutes and 48 seconds into the game. Ridgefield spent the rest of the period playing catch-up, scrambling on defense and struggling to get clean looks at the goal on offense. Prep added goals from Kevin Oricoli and Kral before the period was over, opening a 3-0 lead through the first 15 minutes.

“In the first period, we were chasing,” said Ridgefield head coach Shaun Gallagher, whose team is now 13-3 this season. “[Prep was] dictating. They outworked us on every puck, and they outplayed us in all three zones ...”

The Tigers seemed to settle into the flow of the game in the second period. It showed early, as forward Nick Cullinan got off a pair of good shots that couldn’t find their way to the back of the net. The Jesuits kept pressing, however, and scored their fourth goal just over seven minutes into the period.

A glimmer of hope emerged for Ridgefield late in the second period. After failing to capitalize on a power play in the wake of Prep’s fourth goal, forward Matt Walker took possession of the puck on the right wing. He turned, curled across the front of the goal, and lofted a shot into the top right corner to give the Tigers their only goal of the night with 2:50 remaining in the period.

“In the second period we started to turn a little bit, but we didn’t capitalize on any chances, especially the power play,” said Gallagher. “We gave up a short-hander, and those are killers. Once you dig a hole that big against a team as good as Prep, it’s very difficult to get out of that hole.”

Prep (14-1-1) put the game away with a breakaway goal in the opening seconds of the third period. Ridgefield fought to the end, but was never able to capitalize on the opportunities it created.

Gallagher saw some positives from his team in the face of the lopsided defeat.

“[Goalie] Sean Gordon made a lot of good saves — the score could have been worse than this,” said Gallagher. “I think there were some isolated plays here and there where we looked really good, where we moved the puck the way we wanted to. There were even some good power-play moments there, we just didn’t capitalize ... we just didn’t bury [our chances]. You have to score to win, so no excuses.”

In the end, Gallagher wants his team to take this loss as a learning experience, and then to leave it in the past.

“You gotta have a next shift mentality,” he said. “Play the right way and make the bounces go your way. It’s just your work ethic and playing the right way. Prep did that all night and that’s why they won. We just didn’t get our game going today. But we’ll learn from it and move on.”

Notes: Gordon finished with 27 saves for the Tigers.

Prep goalie John McGee stopped 28 of Ridgefield's 29 shots.